Preparing For College Entrance Exams Throughout High School

A teenage girl is taking notes during an online class

Not sure how to start preparing for the ACT or SAT? Unsure which test you should take? There’s a lot that goes into the college prep process, even as your student enters their first year of high school. Knowing how to prepare for entrance exams is key and we’ll help you get started with our year-to-year test preparation checklist.

One thing to note is that some colleges don’t have a preference when it comes to which test you take, so don’t feel like you are tied to one—or both. Check with the college admissions website or speak with your college counselor to help guide your student though how to prepare for college exams. Follow this checklist to determine which test is right for you, if not both. Let’s get started! 

9th-Grade College Prep Checklist 

Objective: Start planning.

  • Research – Start researching the difference(opens in a new tab) between the two tests.  
  • Map Out a Plan – Work with a school or college counselor to create a four-year course plan for college based on subjects you enjoy and what you are hoping to pursue after college. 
  • Organize and Build Resources – Bookmark SAT and ACT test prep resources to refer to later or build a college entrance exam study guide. 
  • Pinpoint Interests – Identify SAT subject tests that align with your interests or with your AP®* or honors class. 
  • Enable Skills  Start practicing test-anxiety-reducing tactics and good study habits
  • Consider Pros & Cons – If you are considering taking either test before your junior year, you should note the pros and cons. 
    • Pros:  
      • You will be able to benchmark your progress and will be more aware of the subjects that take more practice. 
      • You will be more thoroughly prepared each time you take the test. 
    • Cons:
      • Some colleges do not allow you to select which scores are sent when you apply, so if your scores are low during your first and sophomore years, then the colleges you apply to may see these scores. 
      • You may get burned out quickly. Preparing for these tests can be overwhelming, so you may want to take it slow. Remember that your scores for these tests are just a piece of your college admission puzzle. 

10th-Grade College Prep Checklist

Objective: Decide which test, if not both, is best for you.

  • Access Free Study Resources – There’s no need to pay for resources until you have decided which test, if not both, you will take. Here are some helpful options to consider: 
  • PSAT Feedback – Consider taking the PSAT(opens in a new tab) by signing up with your school counselor. 
  • Practice, Practice, Practice – Take a free ACT practice test.
  • College and Career Planning – Start researching careers and schools you may be interested in. It can help to attend college fairs and “College Chats.” You can also check each college’s website for more information on score requirements, and check with the college admissions website or admissions advisor to make sure they don’t prefer one test over the other. 
  • Entrance Test Selection – Decide which test is best for you, if not both, once you have taken practice tests and thoroughly researched both tests. Talk with your school counselor to help make this decision.   

11th-Grade College Prep Checklist 

Objective: Take one or both tests, and report scores.

  • Identify College Test Score Requirements – As you decide on schools you will apply to, research test scores for your key colleges. 
  • Register for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT  Register and plan to take the PSAT and either, or both, the ACT or SAT. 
  • Study and Practice – Three months before each test date, create a study schedule(opens in a new tab) that works for you or organize a study group that meets once a week. When practicing, set up the same environment for the ACT or the SAT and work through a practice test alone to simulate the test day(opens in a new tab)
  • Consider Online Prep Courses –Once you have chosen the test or tests you want to take, consider purchasing the SAT online course or the ACT online prep for a thorough breakdown of each test. Be sure to ask your school’s counselor if your school offers any preparatory materials or tools as well. This can be a great way to save on materials and course costs. 
  • Prepare Mentally and Physically – Mentally and physically prepare for the test ahead of time. 
  • Take and Re-Take Test (if necessary) – Consider retaking a test, if necessary. Check your scores against the testing requirements for each college you applied to. 
  • Release Scores – Send scores for the SAT and/or ACT to colleges and scholarship programs. 

12th-Grade College Prep Checklist

Objective: Boost your scores, if necessary.

  • College Counseling – Meet with your counselor the summer before senior year to help decide whether you need to retake either test based on your scores. 
  • Identify Winning Test Scores – If you do take a test again, learn how your scores are sent with multiple tests. 
    • If you took the ACT more than once, you can choose which test scores are reported to colleges and scholarships. However, you cannot mix and match scores. You must pick one test or multiple tests all at once. 
    • If you took the SAT more than once, you can also choose which test scores are reported to colleges and scholarships with “Score Choice.”(opens in a new tab) 
  • Release New Scores – Send your scores for the SAT and/or ACT to colleges and scholarship programs. 

Whether you attend an online high school or traditional school, taking the ACT and/or the SAT is just a part of the college preparation process. Connections Academy’s virtual school students receive helpful college counseling support and learn valuable life skills as they prepare for college and whatever comes next. 

*AP® and Advanced Placement® are registered trademarks of the College Board. Used with permission. 

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